Farm Bill Failures and Marketing Successes
Two weeks ago, I traveled to Washington DC to attend the National Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit organized by USDA. While in Washington, in addition to indulging my inner child by going to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to see the space shuttle Discovery, I joined with other farmers’ market operators from California to visit with the staff of Congressman Jeff Denham who represents California’s 10th Congressional District and sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
Our delegation shared with the Congressman’s staff the importance of including funding in the 2018 Farm Bill for programs that directly support farmers’ markets and the small-scale farmers who sell in those markets. We believe the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP), that was included in the Senate version of the Bill, holds great promise for providing a stable system of investments into farmers’ markets. We encouraged the Congressman to support inclusion of LAMP in the final Farm Bill as he participate on the conference committee that is negotiating a compromise Farm Bill that aligns the differing priorities that each house of Congress included in its version of the Farm Bill
Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass a new Farm Bill before the previous bill expired on September 30, effectively putting many of the programs that support farmers’ markets and smaller-scale direct marketing farmers on hiatus. News reports suggest that there will be no further action on the Farm Bill until after the November election. Luckily, our nation’s farmers are not going on hiatus. They are continuing to plant, harvest and sell their crops while waiting for Congress to complete its work.
Last month’s Summit represented the first time in a number of years that USDA has organized an event to bring farmers’ markets from around the nation together. It was great to reconnect with colleagues operating incredible farmers’ markets in Chicago, Santa Monica, Washington DC and other cities throughout the nation. At the Summit PCFMA shared some of the first lessons that have emerged from the marketing program we launched late last year with the support of a USDA Farmers’ Market Promotion Program. Over the next two years, as we continue this marketing program, we will continue to share our findings and best practices with our California farmers and our farmers’ market partners around the nation so others can learn from our experiences.
While we are already seeing early success with this marketing program, we know there is more work to be done. Consumers are demanding more transparency about where and how their food is grown and more convenience through mobile access to information and home deliveries. The high tech boom has reached the food system with dozens of systems offered to farmers’ markets that promise to connect them to farmers and consumers, but it is a challenge to know which system will truly deliver on its promises. Customers are bombarded with a constant stream of information about food from multiple sources and mediums making it more difficult but also more essential to build a rapport of trust with farmers’ market customers.
At the Summit we learned that farmers’ markets around the nation are facing similar challenges. We look forward to working with and learning from our partners throughout the nation as we tackle these problems, so we can sustain our farmers’ markets as essential sales outlets for California farmers.